No More Walled Gardens? Response to Spectrum Access and the Public Sphere

Rachel O'Dwyer, Philipps Universität Marburg, Mediarep
2019
To control information and where it travels is to control the economic and political base of contemporary society. The management and regulation of resources like base stations, servers, satellites, and antennas are central, but none more so than the physical media itself: fibre-optic cables, telephone lines and electromagnetic spectrum. 1 In Spectrum Access and the Public Sphere, Beli argues that recent changes to the management of spectrum, coupled with material transformations taking place
more » ... ions taking place in mobile network infrastructure, are supporting the development of community-operated mesh networks. These networks in turn might foster an engaged and egalitarian relationship with media that enhance the public sphere beyond the behest of corporate monopolies and/or the state. Beli's paper hinges on the well-debated position that networked media enhance the public sphere, with the author drawing a familiar contrast between the broadcast and centralised topologies of mass media and the many-to-many topologies of digital networks, where the former is associated with the degradation of real democracy and the latter is thought to support non-hierarchical cooperation and consensus. This often feels deterministic, an ode to the "magic" of Moore's Law and "the very broadening of the public sphere that technology provides", but unlike much of the literature connecting the Internet and the public sphere, Beli also recognises the importance of the material consolidation of the resources that undergird this space. The networked public sphere relies on open platforms and APIs, but also on a 'commons core infrastructure' outside of state or market control. 2 Here, control of the electromagnetic spectrum is a central 1 Spectrum concerns the frequencies used for all wireless and mobile transmissions, from broadcast technologies such as radio and television, through to networks of all kinds today such as cellular, the mobile Internet, sensor networks, smart grids etc.
doi:10.25969/mediarep/3817 fatcat:2nkfxfzwerhylf3bbimpnzmsei